Juneteenth, a festival held annually on June 19, is the oldest known celebration to commemorate African-American’s emancipation from slavery in the U.S.

On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring on Jan. 1, 1863 all persons held in slavery within any state, or designated part of a state, shall be forever set free.

Unfortunately, the news reached Galveston, Texas two and a half years later on June 19, 1865, where slavery was still institutionalized.

This historic document was greeted with joy and celebration among enslaved African-Americans Texans.


Juneteenth Day

In 1979, a bill initiated by Albert “Al” Edwards, an African-American state lawmaker, passed the Texas State Legislature recognizing Juneteenth Day – which was signed into law. On Jan. 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through Edwards’ efforts. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.  Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.

Otha P. Rice, a Texas native, brought the Juneteenth to Denver during the early ‘50s to 28th and Welton Street at Rice’s Tap Room and Oven. In 1996, another Texan Al Richardson picked up the celebration for the Five Points Business Association (FPBA) and community. Two thousand sixteen marks the fifth year that Denver businessman Norman Harris has served as organizer of Denver’s Juneteenth Celebration.


Juneteenth Music Festival

Historically, the celebration in Denver is one the nation’s largest Juneteenth celebration, and after a seeing a decline in attendance and participation, a decision led to re-brand the celebration. The music and performance portion of the festival has always been a large draw for which it is formerly known as The Juneteenth Music Festival.

This year’s festival will give the stage to up and coming performers and talent.

“We have a great line-up and are in the final stages of locking down some acts coming from outside cities and some of our favorites here from metro Denver,” Harris says. Harris believes in a long-term vision for the festival that includes a music-driven celebration and looks forward to expanding their demographic through music, as a universal language and form of expression.

Over the years, Juneteenth has undergone many changes and because it had pushed its focus on music, along with celebrating freedom and the achievements of the African-American community, Juneteenth continues its long historical tradition.

Juneteenth is largely supported by the small businesses and community organizations that vend, educate and promote worthy causes. Sponsors and a handful of grants have allowed Harris and the board to enhance the festival experience.

Education and Self-Improvement

Juneteenth provides a range of activities to entertain the masses, many of which continue in tradition today. Juneteenth almost always focuses on education and self-improvement.

“We are always growing and so is our city,” Harris says. “We’ve been able to find some great synergy with the city and the Five Points neighborhood and it continues to get better. The Juneteenth celebration is not only about the great freedom and the great contribution of African-Americans to our nation, but that those contributions can be found throughout all of our neighborhoods and invite any and every one to join in that celebration with us.”

Today, Juneteenth is enjoying a phenomenal growth rate within communities and organizations throughout the country. Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others have begun sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities. In recent years, a number of local and national Juneteenth organizations have arisen to take their place alongside older organizations – all with the mission to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African-American history and culture.

Juneteenth celebrates African-American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.

Harris plans on accomplishing things with Juneteenth. “We have many goals with regards to the festival,” he says. “One is to continue having the largest festival base in African-American Culture in Denver and to continue to grow relative programming. We would also like to continue drawing visitors to the historic Five Points neighborhood and adding value to the community. Long-term goals include seeing JMF Corp., producers of Juneteenth Music Festival, carry out the type of social responsibility that advocacy groups in the 60’s as well as the positive impact on change and the wider community. The progression of African-Americans has always happened on the backs of community and organization and we strive be an even larger outlet for progression in the future.”

Editor’s note: Juneteenth will be held on June 18, in the Five Points Community. For more information and a schedule of events, visit Juneteenthfestival.com or email to contact@juneteenthmusicfestival.com.